Relationships in Business?
It’s commonly known that in Business to Business (B2B) negociations and contracts, people and companies are seen and considered as partners. It is easy to conceptualize since it is clear that all the parts sell or transform a product or service. By these actions, the partner create directly value in the relation by selling (receiving money from the transaction) or transforming (adding knowledge and competencies into the value proposition).
You may have noticed I didn’t mention the act of purchasing… Because that is my main question. When a final consumer purchase a product or service, he would naturally also create value in the chain, and this way, get into the tight relationship with the company (like the close circle). So why consumers and organizations are so much distanced?
There is two purchase options. First, you buy a product in order to sell it then. Second, you buy a product in order to consume it. We will focus here on the second point.
The consumption process
For many people, the act of consumption occurs when the customer actually use the product or service after having purchased it or brought it back at home. Actually, it is something very different. It could seem logical for marketing practitioners or students, but in order to create more contact opportunities with consumers, we should consider the consumption in a holistic vision, starting from the information research processes to the product use, and even to the act of repurchasing, etc. (Lemke et al., 2011).
Nowadays, due to saturated markets, a company cannot afford missing an opportunity to create and foster its relationships with consumers. Managing relationship is closely related with “touchpoints” (Zomerdijk & Voss, 2010). The touchpoints are all the contacts points between a company and consumers. They can be direct and indirect as well.
The direct touchpoints are for exemple the corporate website, the newsletter, direct marketing, company’s social media channels. By extension, they are the controled. The indirect ones are all the contacts to the company through a third party (e.g. blogs, partners, word-of-mouth, experts or non-experts reviews). They can be considered for many of them as non controllable by the company.
Having a lot of touchpoints seems to be interesting for a company, considering the potential reach it represents. But it is not that easy. The more a company has touchpoints, the more vulnerable, and the trickier. Indeed, it involves more efforts on managing them, and more ressources (e.g. human, financial, technological).
This reflection heads to think about the relation management, and inevitably to brand communities.
It is not difficult to conceptualize that a strong relation is something customized, and sometimes even personified. Who has never felt disappointed not seeing his/her favourite waiter that night at the bar? The relationship you have with this waiter is a sort of decentralized relationship, at a low level I admit. Now, imagine you come onto a website, for example called Reddit, or Medium.com. Your relationship with the company seems close and strong, but actually you never hear about the brand managers and representatives. The contact you have with the company is made by the mediation of other consumers.
So, what is the place of a brand community in company-consumer relationship?
By endorsing different roles in the community, members tend to create value and a link between the newcomer and the company (Pongsakornrungsilp & Schroeder, 2011), through different practices for example like welcoming people, helping them in the use of the brand, managing the relationships and cohesion (Schau et al., 2009).
Furthermore, it has been proved in practice that brand communities, when well managed and stimulated, create closer ties between the companies and the consumers (McAlexander et al., 2002).
Towards new business models?
Building and managing bonds becoming increasingly more difficult for companies, the question of decentralized business models becomes legit. Considering the decentralization as a potential larger reach, and consumers as ambassadors through communities, could companies imagine adopt a decentralized sales system, and concentrate inplaying an image role, updating the communities and maintain the “cement” between all actors?
When writing this part, I think about companies like Airbnb, Uber, and also Medium.com, where actually there are as many offers as people in the community, and businesses tend to be more person-to-person (Consumer2Consumer: C2C) than organization-to-person (B2C), thus maybe more customized and relational, without removing the existence of the brand/company.
Lemke Fred, Moira Clark, Hugh Wilson (2011). « Customer Experience Quality : An Exploration in Business and Consumer Contexts Using Repertory Grid Technique », Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, vol.39, no.6.
McAlexander, J. H., et al. (2002). “Building Brand Community.” Journal of Marketing 66(1): 38–54.
Pongsakornrungsilp, Siwarit, and Jonathan Schroeder (2011). « Understanding value co-creation in a co-consuming brand community », Marketing Theory, vol.11, no.3.
Schau, Hope J., Albert Muniz, Eric J, Arnould (2009). « How Brand Community Practices Create Value », Journal of Marketing, vol.73, no.5.
Leonieke G. Zomerdijk, Christopher A. Voss (2010). « Service Design for Experience-Centric Services », Journal of Service Research, vol.13, no.1.